Chapter 1

Walking into your new apartment shouldn't feel like a death march. 'Come on you giant baby' I thought to myself. 'You've had this damn apartment for ages, now put on your big girl panties and bring this effing box inside. It's just one box. Put the key in the door, unlock it and open the door.' How ridiculous am I? Seriously? Other girls my age would envy me. Other girls would give just about anything to have their own place. Yeah, well…other girls haven't been through the shit I've been through. It's only natural to have some reservations about this. 'Okay, okay. Just open the door and drop the box just inside the door.'

I finally get the key in the lock and turn it and as I'm pushing the door open the box I've been balancing on my left knee while I'm balancing myself on my right leg, falls and all the stuff falls out into the hallway. "God damn it!" I yell as I throw my purse on the floor and squat down to start putting my belongings back into the box.

"Whoa. Here, let me help you," says a deep voice from behind me.

Startled, I jump back up to my feet, spin around, and punch the intruder square in the jaw.

"Ow! What the fuck, lady?"

"Oh my God! I'm so sorry. Are you okay? I'm so sorry. You startled me. Here, let me grab you some ice." I turn to run inside my apartment and realize that I don't have ice. "Damn it! I'm so sorry, mister. I don't have ice…or, well, anything else in here yet." I turn back to the… oh my bloody hell…the god I've just assaulted. Blonde hair. Broad shoulders. His tight t-shirt just molds to his chiseled abs. And I look up into the most gorgeous blue eyes I've ever seen. What the hell have I done?

Rubbing his jaw, he laughs. "It's okay. You're a jittery little thing, aren't you? Helluva right hook." He gives me a huge smile and holds out his hand. "Let's try this again. I'm Eric Northman. I live in 11B. Welcome to the building."

I stand there for a moment frozen. 'Stop it you moron. Say something.' Eric's smile starts to fade.

"I'm sorry. I'm an idiot," I say. I put my hand into to his and smile. "I'm Sookie Stackhouse."

"Will you hit me again if I try to help you with this?" Eric says, motioning to the now empty box and its contents on the floor.

"You're a brave soul for even offering. Thank you." We both squat to start scooping my random crap back into the box. "Pretty crappy first impression, huh?"

"Not at all. I like feisty women." He smiles and I giggle. Giggled. I don't giggle. I'm not that girl. Well, until now apparently.

We get everything back into the box and I drop it just inside my apartment and close the door. I turn the key to lock the door and then turn to thank Eric one last time. He's looking at me with a strange expression.

"What?"

"It's just….you're not going inside? Do you have more boxes I can help you with?"

"Oh, no. I was just dropping this one box off on my way to an appointment."

"So, when will you be officially moving in…if you don't mind my asking."

"Um, well, I'm not sure. I mean I suppose I have to be moved in and unpacked by Saturday since I've invited people over for dinner. Oh, hey! Would you like to join us for dinner? I'm just having my family and friends over to show them the place. I guess it's like a house warming or whatever. It's not really a big deal. I guess they just want to see…" I trail off because I realize I'm just rambling at this point. God, do I know how to make a first impression or what?

"I'd love to join you. Are you sure I wouldn't be imposing on family time or something?"

"No, not at all. I'd love to have you…er…join us for dinner. 6:00?"

"Can I bring anything?"

"No. Just yourself. And it wouldn't hurt if you bring a really good sense of humor. Some of my family can be rather brutal. Sometimes it can be a challenge to be in the same room with half of them. Basically some of them can be a total pain in the ass is the general theme I'm trying to go with here."

"I'll consider myself warned," he laughed. "I'll be there. Thank you for the invite."

"Okay, great. Well, I really need to go. So, I'll see you Saturday."

"Looking forward to it."

I try my best not to run to the elevator. I'm mortified. I've just punched my new neighbor. Maybe Amelia's right about me needing to go back to therapy. Sheesh! I'm surprised Eric even bothered to stick around long enough for my apology. Thankfully, the elevator is still on the floor from when I came up. Guess it's a pretty slow day in the building. Well, it is 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. Everyone is probably at work. Hmmm. I wonder why Eric isn't at work. Maybe he works at night or has the day off.

When the elevator opens on the first floor I step out into the lobby and pull my cell phone out of my purse. I need to call Amelia.

"Hey there chick! How's the move going?" she says as she answers the phone.

"Well, I guess you could say it was a…" I hesitate and she launches into me.

"Sookie Stackhouse! You promised you would start moving your stuff into that apartment today! What the fuck is the point of even having a penthouse apartment if you aren't even going to live in it? Come on, Sookie! You are stronger than this!"

"Amelia! Stop! I brought a box."

"A box? As in one box? Really? That's the best you've got?"

"I know, I know! Look I'm having all of you over for dinner on Saturday so I have to have myself completely moved in and unpacked by then. I guess I knew I needed something to push me to do this when I made those plans. Anyway, when I was dropping the box off, I met the guy that lives across the hall from me."

"Cool. So, is he married? I guess he's old since he's got the other penthouse. I mean I'm sure there's hot young guys on the lower floors, but most young people can't afford the penthouse, but maybe he's nice or whatever," she says practically all at once.

"Amelia, shut up for like a second and I'll tell you. He's actually a young guy. In his mid to late 20's I'd guess. I have no idea if he's married or not."

"You mean you didn't ask? You didn't notice whether he's got a ring on or anything?"

"Well, I was actually too mortified after I punched him."

"You WHAT?"

"Yeah. I punched him. I was jumpy and nervous and I dropped the box of stuff right when I opened my apartment door and he was just suddenly right behind me asking if he could help me and I jumped up and punched him."

"Ohmigod! You are such a goofball! Was he pissed? What did he say? What the fuck?"

"That's what he said. 'What the fuck?'"

"What did you do?"

"I apologized profusely. Then I was going to get him ice and remembered that I didn't have anything in my place yet. All I could do was apologize over and over and over like a complete idiot. Anyway, he said it was fine and introduced himself and I stood there like a moron just staring at him. The whole experience was just mortifying. He was, well, sexy as hell…which only made the whole experience that much worse."

"Well, what's his name?"

"Eric Northman. I invited him to have dinner with us Saturday. I'm hoping I can somehow make it up to him, especially since he still helped me pick up all the stuff that fell out of the box."

"ERIC NORTHMAN IS YOUR NEIGHBOR?"

"Yeah…you know him?"

"Sook…Eric freakin Northman! How the hell have you NOT heard of him? He's always in the papers. His family owns Northman International. He's hot as all hell. I see him at those stupid benefits and charity events my dad insists I go to."

"Annndd, now I can just pray for the earth to open up and swallow me whole. Anyway, I just wanted to fill you in on my latest moronic adventure. I've got to go. I'm at the Center. I just want to forget the whole afternoon."

"Wait! How about I take the next couple of days off and help you get moved in and unpacked? I'm sure daddy won't mind. I'll check with him and let you know tonight."

"You don't have to do that." I really didn't like other people going out of their way for me like that. I don't want to impose. I hate feeling needy.

"I don't mind. We'll get everything moved tomorrow and get a pizza and have girls night the rest of the week. It's gonna be fun!"

I laughed. "Okay, you nut. You're the only one that thinks moving and unpacking is fun. I'll talk to you tonight. Later!"

I took a deep breath and got out of the car. I needed to forget all about the apartment and my gorgeous neighbor for the next 4 hours. These kids need someone they can count on to be there for them. I check in at the office and head back to the common room where they're working on homework. Well, they're supposed to be working on homework. Mostly they're tossing books at each other and generally being bratty.

"Hey guys! How 'bout we get homework finished so we can go shoot some hoops?" Usually dangling something fun in front of them gets them to focus on the un-fun stuff. I start walking around checking homework and answering questions. It's a wide range of subjects since the age range of the kids today seems to be pre-school to high school.

I just don't understand this world. I've been volunteering here for the past 3 years. There never seems to be a shortage of kids in need of the services this Center provides. The kids come here broken, battered, scared, angry, and confused. I get them. I do. How can a child feel like he is worth much of anything if the very people put on this earth to love them unconditionally are the ones beating you and telling you that you are nothing? I understand these kids. I've been where they are.

This Center is a safe haven for these kids. Nothing can hurt them inside these walls. Their parents or guardians go to a different part of the Center for their own brand of therapy. They meet up with the kids usually around 5pm. Some parents stay here with their children when they have finally left their own abusers. Sometimes the mothers or fathers are both the abused and the abuser. But inside this Center, the kids are safe. This is usually where these kids come for safety, for therapy, for a sense of peace and calm. Security in this building is top notch and all employees and volunteers are screened thoroughly before getting anywhere near the kids.

I come here during the week to help with homework, play with the kids, and talk to them. I'm basically like a big sister to most of them. Some have been coming here for years and I've really gotten to know them. Others I see only once or twice before they disappear back into their abused homes or run away or, on a couple of really awful occasions, are killed by their parents. I just want these kids to know that they can not only survive the bullshit they are going through, but they can move past it and even rise above it. I don't want them to give up. I want them to know that they are better than their circumstances.

At 6:30 I say my goodbyes and give hugs and head out the door. I make the hour drive home to Bon Temps. The days I work at the Center are usually pretty rough and I feel completely drained. I didn't even think about my issues with moving or my mortifying encounter with my new neighbor. Gran had dinner ready when I got home. I was really going to miss her cooking. Sigh. This whole growing up thing…for the birds. Conversation over dinner was light and fun. I shared the story of my first encounter with my new neighbor with Gran, Aunt Linda, and Hadley. They found the story much more amusing than I did.

I was exhausted and I really needed to get myself geared up to move the rest of my stuff over the next couple of days. I wanted nothing more than to get into my yoga pants and an old t-shirt. If this was going to be my last night in this house, I wanted to be comfortable while walking down memory lane. I got into my comfy clothes and I started pulling stuff out of drawers and packing them into boxes. After a couple of hours I had cleared all of my drawers and my closet. I was feeling a mixture of sad and excited. Tomorrow I was truly starting my so called adult life. I would be moving into my own place….finally.